By Robin Gomes
The popular feast of the Black Nazarene kicked off in the Philippine capital Manila on Wednesday, with tens of thousands joining a 7 km procession with the statue of a black Jesus of Nazareth carrying His cross.
The feast of the Black Nazarene, which attracts millions of people, celebrates the
Devotion vs fanaticism
The feast of the Black Nazarene kicked off with a midnight Mass early January 9, during which the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle urged for devotion and not fanaticism.
During the Mass, presided over by Monsignor Hernando Coronel, rector of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, Cardinal Tagle told thousands of people who attended the midnight celebration to distinguish "fanatics" from "devotees."
During the procession, tens of thousands of predominantly male barefooted devotees in yellow and maroon shirts, frantically push and jostle their way to touch the dark wooden statue of Jesus.
People unable to touch the Black Nazarene throw small towels at volunteers on the carriage pulled by ropes to wipe parts of the cross and the statue in the belief that the Nazarene's powers cure ailments and ensure good health and a better life.
Cardinal Tagle said only a true devotee can understand the significance of the celebration. He said that unlike fanatics, devotees love the Lord "unconditionally."
"A fanatic does not love. Fanatics hold on to who gives importance to them," said the prelate. "But a devotee ... is devoted because of love, and that is what Jesus showed us," he said.
The cardinal said a devotee will always be loyal because of love. He said devotees are united with the one they love, be it in suffering, happiness, and sickness.
The prelate reminded Catholics that being a Black Nazarene devotee is not only for a day or for only the feast.
"Devotion is a daily act... In every kind of love, loyalty, and union, it must be daily," Cardinal Tagle said.
According to Msgr. Coronel the feast of the Black Nazarene revolves around the devotion to the suffering Christ, with whom the Filipinos identify, in their life marked by poverty and daily suffering.
The life-size statue of the Black Nazarene was brought to Manila by Augustinian priests in 1607. Tradition holds that it got its colour after it was burned in a fire on the Spanish galleon transporting it.
Manila police estimated close to 300,000 were in the procession early Wednesday morning, excluding those waiting along the route.
The Philippine Red Cross said that by mid-morning they had treated more than 600 people for conditions like breathing problems, fainting and bruises. Three people were taken to the hospital.
With about 80